Simon Terry

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The Normative Billiards called Culture

Roll one billiard ball at another across a smooth carpet and they will collide. The outcome will be determined by Newtonian laws of motion. As a result, billiards is a game of control.

Ask a person to walk towards another across a carpet and no matter how narrow the passage they will make efforts to pass each other, wordlessly navigating the changes in course to prevent collision through glances and body language. Human interaction is a game of influence, not control.

The difference in those two scenarios is that billiard balls operate in the grip of immutable physical laws. Human being operate in line with dynamic social norms. One simple norm is that you don’t collide with another if you can avoid it. 

Whenever someone offers you recommendations based on immutable human behaviour make the social norms explicit and consider how they might interplay. When you need to change behaviour remember that changing the carefully regimented process might be less important than changing the social norms. Any organisation will be composed of the interplay of many social norms, some explicit but many deeply implicit. 

Awareness of norms will help your effectiveness in change. We are human. We are not billiard balls. 


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